Military has lost 50 personnel in air crashes in 5 years | India News

NEW DELHI: Military aviation is innately risky with pilots often pushing their fighters, aircraft and helicopters to the limits to practise combat manoeuvres and low-level flying missions or carry out rescue operations and ferry supplies to forward areas in treacherous weather and terrain conditions.
The crash of the Indian Army’s weaponised version of the indigenous advanced light helicopter (ALH), `Rudra’, in Arunachal Pradesh on Friday, killing two officers and three soldiers, once again underscores the alarmingly high crash rate in the Indian armed forces.
Sources said the army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy have suspended flying operations of the entire ALH fleet – over 300 such twin-engine choppers have been inducted since 2001-2002 – for at least a day to conduct technical and maintenance checks.
The court of inquiry will establish the exact reason behind Friday’s crash. But the overall statistics are chilling. Over 50 military personnel have lost their lives in aircraft and helicopter accidents in the last five years.
Take helicopters, for instance. Just since 2017, the armed forces have recorded 20 chopper crashes, in which 40 military personnel have been killed and over 25 injured.
Since March, army aviation alone has seen the crash of three single-engine Cheetah helicopters, which are of the design vintage of the 1960s and lack modern avionics and built-in safety mechanisms.
Huge delays in new inductions mean the virtually obsolete Cheetahs and Chetaks as well as the supersonic MiG-21 jets are still being flown by the armed forces.
Even the newer ALHs and the Russian-origin Mi-17 V5 helicopters have crashed over the last few years. India’s first chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 others were killed when their Mi-17 V5 helicopter crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu in December last year.
Seven ALHs have also crashed since 2017. “The choppers should have obstacle-avoidance systems, among other safety features. Even in the past, the entire ALH fleet has been grounded due to crashes and technical snags,” an officer said.
Former naval aviator and test pilot Commander K P Sanjeev Kumar (retd), in turn, said, the recent spike in helicopter crashes, especially in army aviation, is a cause for concern. “No data of any meaningful value related to flight safety and accident investigation is ever put out by the armed forces for public scrutiny. Hence, one cannot expect anyone outside the system to analyse or offer mitigating strategies,” he said.
“Safe outcomes can only arise from greater accountability and deeper audits for quality and timelines, not sloganeering. We must create a more robust system of checks and balances where the trail of accountability is investigated to its root and fixed,” he added.
As reported by TOI earlier, around 90 per cent of the overall crashes are attributed to “human errors” and “technical defects”, with the rest due to “bird hits” and other factors. In effect, apart from the tough operating conditions, “inadequate” training to pilots and technicians, ageing machines, poor maintenance practices, defective spares and the like, all contribute to the deadly mix for military aviation in India.
“There is certainly an issue with pilots and technicians not getting requisite training and mentoring to handle increased cockpit workloads and technological demands,” a senior officer said.
“As it is, flying in inclement weather and hills is risky, with visibility often suddenly reducing. Errors of judgment can be made under stress, spatial disorientation and lack of situational awareness,” he added.
Then, the older the technology, the more prone it is to accidents. Newer fighters like the Rafales and Mirage-2000s have inherent safety features that old fighters like MiG-21s do not.

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